Joan Barron: Labeling The 2024 Budget Session

Columnist Joan Barron writes, "Government observers and historians have a tendency to label legislative sessions. I think the 2024 budget session could be labeled the 'elites and hillbillies session.'"

Joan Barron

May 04, 20244 min read

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CHEYENNE — Government observers and historians have a tendency to label legislative sessions.

That’s how we remember the environmental and mineral tax sessions in the 1970’s; the medical school session; the medical malpractice session and the workmen’s compensation session.

(The last one was memorable because it was so hot; it was held in the summer BAC -before air conditioning}. Then there was the education session and a series of school finance reform sessions.

I think the 2024 budget session could be labeled the “elites and hillbillies session.”

The two names that stick in the head are the result or two separate debates in the state senate.

The elites were mentioned in a debate over a bill amendment that would have encouraged preschools to offer science programs.

Some far right members of the senate objected because for them, science means climate change and is contrary to their literal view of the Bible.

During the discussion, Sen. John Kolb, R-Rock Springs, made a comment about “the elites among us,” referring to people who believe they know more than other people according to a common interpretation.

These elites are also likely to believe in man-caused climate change and do not interpret the Bible literally. The amendment received only two votes, so it was not a popular idea for most of the senate, not just the far right folks.

Nevertheless the “elites” word pinned down one of the differences that made this session so divisive and ugly at times.

The other word, “hillbillies,” came from Senate President Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower.

Driskill was pushing back against the successful move to override his decisions on a committee appointment and on interpretation of a rule.

He said the actions made the senate look like a bunch of hillbillies, meaning they were not acting like statesmen, not even a little bit.

Both losses for the senate president were breaks with tradition which never occurred before at least in recent history.

If you believe the elites and hillbillies is too harsh a label you might consider an alternative—“the deadlock session.” This is what happened or almost happened with a lot of bills in committee this year.

An example is the Joint Committee on Labor Health and Social Services.

The committee co-chairmen, Sen. Fred Baldwin, R- Kemmerer, and Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, said early on they had difficulty identifying topics the committee majority could agree on for study.

They had to go far down the list of proposals before they had any success.

The committee was one that had a lot of narrow votes and tie votes.

Last week the committee’s first interim meeting this year saw narrow votes again as the members voted to sponsor a health care authority bill that came from the governor’s office. The vote was 8-6.

But it was not before a discussion and objections that the bill is another example of government over-reach into health care.

Supporters explained the group would be like a think tank that could only advise the executive branch.

But the committee voted 7-6 against a second bill to establish a Board of Musical Therapy.

The bill was on the committee’s list of interim topics.

The committee co-chairman Dan Zwonitzer said later in an e-mail that it was unusual to kill an interim topic at the first meeting of the year.

“That never used to happen,” Zwonitzer said. “Historically there was broad agreement on trying to fully understand an issue and work on it in the interim before a final vote. “

The musical therapy bill will get a second chance however.

The general agreement, he said, is if the Board of Musical Therapy can work out an agreement with the Mental Health Licensing Board, the committee can discuss it at the next meeting and still get a bill draft out for the third and final interim committee meeting in November.

Zwonitzer also commented on the close votes and tie votes in his committee and in the Revenue Committee. Most of the motions made in the Revenue committee failed on a 7-7 vote, he said.

Now, that’s deadlock.

Contact Joan Barron at 307-632-2534 or

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Joan Barron

Political Columnist